The Winter Wedding
by AC Arthur
Book 8 in the Donovan Friends
Premier event designer, Cheyna Dansfield, just landed the most talked about event of the year—the wedding of art mogul, Monica Lakefield and communications guru, Alexander Bennett. Hard work and dedication has brought Cheyna this far, now she refuses to let a gorgeous man and the risk of murder charges threaten her future.
Public relations dynamo, Logan Williams, was hired to create a family-friendly image for the Lakefield Galleries. The upcoming Lakefield/Bennett wedding could be a stellar media splash and add another feather to his professional cap—if he can keep his hands off the gorgeous and uptight wedding planner.
Logan and Cheyna attempt to keep their passionate affair a secret until the dead bodies turn up and Cheyna becomes the prime suspect.
The Winter Wedding
Book 8 in the Donovan Friends
The Winter Wedding
“With my fists of fury!”
Cheyna Dansfield stifled a grin and returned her gaze to her computer screen.
“You’re going to take down your five foot eleven-inch tall neighbor with your…” Cheyna paused, shook her head to keep the chuckle from escaping and then cleared her throat. “With your fists of fury?”
“Look, size isn’t everything,” Sarah Jung, her four foot ten-inch tall assistant, replied. “Besides, Gida is a klutz anyway. And my Carol doesn’t do anything to her. She’s just an evil zombie!”
Cheyna did smile at that. Even though Sarah was not smiling, instead, she was shaking her head, ink black hair swaying with the motion. Cheyna and Sarah met while working at ZV Events, an elite event planning company owned and operated by Zeke Volker, three years ago when Cheyna was assigned her first solo event. She was hired to plan the wedding for one of New York’s most prominent judges. Sarah, who was born in Baltimore to Korean parents, was there to bail Cheyna out when the caterer the bride selected only spoke Korean.
Cheyna would be forever grateful to Sarah for all her help during that wedding and for believing in Cheyna enough to follow her out of Volker’s reputable company a year later, when Cheyna decided to start her own event planning business. Now, Sarah was opening and closing binders full of linen swatches in an attempt to find the three choices Holly Kimple and her mother, Gwen, made at yesterday’s meeting. Sarah had been at that meeting taking studious notes the way she always did, but Holly and Gwen, were two of the most indecisive clients Cheyna had encountered in a long time. They’d placed a rainbow of sticky notes on many of the pages in three binders, rating them according to a color code they’d written on a canary yellow sticky note. One of many that they’d handed Sarah while they talked.
Sarah was an avid reader whose preference was zombie and apocalyptic books. Her second love was her black and tan Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Carol. The dog her neighbor hated with a passion.
“Well, I don’t doubt your ability,” Cheyna said, sparing a glance at her pretty nymph-like assistant. “Maybe it would be a good idea to keep Carol out of Gida’s path.”
“No!” Sarah snapped and looked away from the binders to find Cheyna’s gaze. She had a pen stuck in the front part of her hair which was pulled up into a knot, two green sticky notes on her fingers, and a purple one dangling from her sleeve. “The good idea would be to duct tape Gida’s big mouth shut! Or maybe I’ll just trip her one day when she’s heading down the stairs. It will be fun to watch the giant tumble and fall.”
“Until that giant gets up and whips your little ass and then kicks your uppity dog down those same stairs.”
Evan Mays entered Cheyna’s office carrying a huge flower arrangement, and dripping sarcasm laced with a dash of truth in a way that only Evan could. He was six-feet tall with the looks of a super model with his perfectly styled dirty blonde hair and mesmerizing green eyes. He dressed as if he were born on the fashion runway and spoke with unmitigated honesty to anyone he met. He was a total sweetheart and exactly what Cheyna would have wanted in a younger brother, if she’d had one. Which is why she’d happily offered Evan a job when those assholes at Volker attempted to sabotage him and his work as a way of hiding their discrimination against an openly gay man.
Sarah balled her fists and stomped. “I’d kill her! I would and you’d have to come and bail me out of jail.”
“Like we had to come and help you clean your kitchen floor before the water from your malfunctioning dishwasher flooded the apartment beneath you,” Evan continued.
Cheyna remained silent because her knees still hurt from four nights ago when she’d spent the evening on her hands and knees soaked with water while at Sarah’s apartment.
“Totally different circumstance, thank you very much,” Sarah snapped.
Evan rolled his eyes. “Totally the same,” he said but did not bother to look back at the still frowning Sarah.
Instead, after setting the arrangement in the center of the rectangular-shaped conference table in the corner of Cheyna’s office, he made his way over to her desk.
“They didn’t have a card,” he told her with a nod toward the flowers. “I checked.”
Cheyna did not doubt that. Evan was nothing if not thorough in his job as event assistant, and office gossip mill. Considering Prestige Events and Productions consisted of its owner and exactly two employees, Evan didn’t have much to work with by way of gossip. Instead, he draped Cheyna and Sarah with his mothering ways and unsolicited advice.
“I thought about keeping them out front but the sunflowers are so big and cheerful, I figured they’d work their magic in here,” he continued.
The meaning behind his comment was not lost on Cheyna but she wanted to get this floorplan and menu sent to her client for final approval before leaving the office tonight. Which meant she did not have time to engage with Evan about how he thought she needed more fun in her life. It was almost four now, if they started that conversation, Evan would be standing across from her desk for the next hour.
“Probably from one of the vendors. I’ll track them down later,” she said and continued to stare at the computer screen.
“It’s Friday night. Happy Hour at Styx starts at 5. We can get there early and grab good seats,” Evan continued.
“Oh yes, I desperately need a drink,” Sarah chimed in. “Whose idea was it to give Holly and Gwen colored sticky notes? My gracious!”
Sarah was great at organizing and details. She was smart and personable and a gem to have on location. But she could be a bit high strung.
“I’ll pass,” Cheyna said.
“Because you have something else to do tonight?” Evan asked. “A hot date maybe?”
“Oooh, a date? Who is he? Tall, dark and handsome maybe? Give me all the deets,” Sarah said as she dropped everything and came over to Cheyna’s desk to stand beside Evan.
These two, Cheyna thought with a shake of her head. If she could run this business alone, she would have. But even she knew that wasn’t a smart idea. Giving up on the floorplan for the moment Cheyna sat back in her chair and huffed out a breath.
“It’s not a man, tall, dark or handsome. I’m going home to review a couple of contracts. Glenix Aeronautics wants to nail down a location for their annual mid-year conference by November 1st. We’ve already picked up this client much later than I would have liked, but we can do this, we just have to stay on point.” Cheyna stated.
“So no nookie for you, just work,” Sarah announced.
“All work and no play,” Evan began with a slow shaking of his head.
“Makes me the boss that signs your paychecks. So both of you can either get back to work or clock out early and head to your happy hour.” Cheyna would be fine with whichever choice they made.
She did like Sarah and Evan. Considering they were the only people, outside of clients, that she spent any time with, Cheyna figured it was a good thing that she liked them as much as she did. Sarah came from a large family that was spread out between New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. While Evan had less biological family that were accepting of his lifestyle, he was part of a huge loving community that made him feel as if they were all blood relatives. Neither of them knew how it felt to lay on a bed, funky from another foster child’s urine, while praying not to succumb to the intense hunger pains. Cheyna knew that feeling all too well, and everything she’d done from the moment she graduated high school, accepted a full scholarship and headed to college, to this point, was so that she would never experience such a painful and desolate feeling again.
Even with all that in mind, Cheyna decided that Sarah and Evan were far too young and fortunate to stay cooped up in the office with her on a Friday night.
“Go!” She directed them before they could say another word. “Get out of here before I change my mind and have you look over the contracts too.”
“I don’t need another push,” Evan said. “I’ll even have a drink for you. A Macallan 25.”
Cheyna had to smile at that. Why Evan remembered her favorite drink was a mystery to her.
“Thanks,” she said. “That’s very kind of you.”
Sarah returned to the binder. “Okay, I’ll take this home with me and have the choices added to the file for your review on Monday. But for now I’m going to get pissy drunk and maybe dance on a table or two.”
Evan let his head fall back with a heavy sigh. “Lord, please help this child,” he said with another roll of his eyes.
Cheyna laughed, something she admitted she did not do often. The sound died quickly at the sound of a familiar voice.
“Am I interrupting?”
The three of them looked toward the door of Cheyna’s office to see Monica Lakefield standing there with an elegantly arched brow lifted in question.
And just like that everything stopped.
There was no more talk of drinks, sticky notes or who was getting nookie tonight and who was not. When Monica Lakefield entered a room a chilly wind blew, snapping everyone in that room to immediate attention. Cheyna was not immune.
Standing, Cheyna brushed down the front of the ecru colored blouse and tan tweed slacks she wore. They were wrinkled no doubt, she’d been sitting most of the day. The matching jacket to her ensemble was draped around the back of her ivory leather desk chair. She figured it would look too obvious if she scooped it up to put on, so she didn’t bother.
“Hi, Monica. Of course you’re not interrupting.” Cheyna walked around the desk.
Evan and Sarah turned to see the woman known as the Ice Queen. Cheyna moved around them to the doorway where Monica still stood.
“How can I help you?” Cheyna asked.
Monica’s intent gaze zeroed in on Cheyna. “I’d like to speak with you about another event.”
“Sure,” Cheyna immediately replied and could have kicked herself for sounding too eager. “Ah, Sarah and Evan were just leaving for the day.”
With that pronouncement Cheyna turned to them and gave a look that silently conveyed “get out”. They quickly obeyed the look with polite nods to Monica on their way out.
“Have a seat.” Cheyna directed Monica to one of the slated black guest chairs across from her desk.
While she moved around her desk, Cheyna glanced at her office for assurance that it was in reasonably good shape for a surprise client visit. Because this was her main location for meeting clients, Cheyna had taken great care in decorating her spacious office. Her desk was to the left of the French doors leading inside from the reception area. Built-in shelves behind her desk held everything from the dance portraits she collected, to the many vases she’d accumulated in her travels, and of course books. Two guest chairs were in front of her desk, while across the room sitting atop a black and white herringbone rug was the long white work table that had previously been filled with the binders that Sarah had taken out with her. Across from that space was a round white table with two clear-backed chairs on one side and a navy blue couch on the other. The new floral arrangement set in the center of that table, adding a burst of cheeriness, just as Evan had noted.
“I would have gladly come to your offices for a meeting, Monica. I know how busy you are.” Cheyna spoke as she took her seat behind the desk.
Prestige Events and Productions was located on the Upper East Side, a ten minute drive in the best of circumstances from where the Lakefield Galleries was located. Worst case scenario, which was the norm for New York traffic, a twenty to thirty-five minute drive. Not a long distance away, but certainly one Cheyna was willing to travel for business.
Monica shook her head. Her hair was loose today, a stark change from the neat chignon Cheyna had become accustomed to seeing her wear. Lustrous black curls hung past her shoulders in an elegant style that complimented the denim dress and natural colored long boots she wore.
“I did not want to do this at the office,” Monica replied. “Besides, I have a dinner meeting a couple blocks away.”
She was removing a large leather binder from the bag she carried as she spoke.
“I’m actually running late, so I don’t have a lot of time,” Monica continued.
Cheyna opened one of the many decorative notebooks she kept either on her desk or behind her on one of the shelves. This was one of a blue set she’d bought just last week, with roses in varying shades of blue on its cover. There were many things that Cheyna collected. It was a hobby she’d cultivated over the years and one that never failed to offer a sense of comfort.
Monica sat back in the chair and rested her hands on top of the binder now sitting on her lap. “I’m getting married,” she said evenly.
Cheyna did not immediately react because she already knew that Monica was engaged to communications guru Alexander Bennett. And if she didn’t know that, the three carat radiant cut diamond ring Monica wore on her left ring finger would have been a dead giveaway.
“Soon,” Monica continued. “I mean, I’m ready to start planning the wedding.”
The last words came with a bit more enthusiasm and that tell-tale spark in her eyes that Cheyna was used to seeing in her brides-to-be.
“I’m so excited for you, Monica!” Cheyna exclaimed. “You and Alex are one of the greatest couples I know.”
A quick smile formed on Monica’s face as she touched her engagement ring. “Thank you,” she replied. “And since you did such a fantastic job with the gallery anniversary party earlier this year, I’d like to hire you to help me plan my wedding.”
Cheyna wanted to jump up and down, maybe do a few cartwheels, a back flip and then yell “Yes! Yes! Yes!” But she refrained. She sat back against her office chair and looked Monica Lakefield directly in the eye before responding, “I would be happy to help you, Monica. Have you and Alex set a date? When would you like to get started?”
Monica rubbed her hands over the binder once more, before handing it to Cheyna.
“The date is December 21st,” Monica stated. “It’s the first day of winter and will be the first day of our married life together.”
Cheyna opened the binder to see the date printed in gold script on a glossy white sheet of paper. She swallowed and looked up to Monica once more. “That’s two months from now.”
Monica lifted one elegantly arched eyebrow. “Yes it is. Will that be a problem for you?”
“No,” Cheyna quickly replied. “No. That won’t be a problem at all.”
“Good. Then you’re hired. We have a lot to get done in a short period of time. And everything has to be perfect.” Monica leaned forward in her chair. She gave Cheyna an excited smile and said happily, “I’m getting married!”
Logan Williams was not a statistic.
He never would be, unless they created a category for confident, strong and determined African American men who came from neighborhoods deemed to be dangerous but now held a six-figure paying job, owned a condo and a black Porsche Panamera. He also held a middleweight championship from the World Boxing Association, but his mother hated when he bragged about fighting.
With that thought, Logan aimed a few more punches at the heavy bag before backing away and taking a series of steadying breaths. He lifted his left hand to his face and used his teeth to unthread the laces on his glove. He’d just pulled the left glove off when someone tapped him on his shoulder.
Turning quickly, Logan took a step back prepared for whatever was to come. It took him a second to realize he wasn’t at the gym back in his old neighborhood in Brooklyn. This was the state-of-the-art fitness facility that spanned an entire floor in the building owned and occupied by The Masori Group, the public relations firm where Logan worked as a brand coordinator.
“Logan Williams?” the man dressed in a tailored charcoal gray suit asked.
His white dress shirt was crisp, the pale pink tie set off the dark tint of the suit and the look on his face was serious.
“Yes,” Logan replied. He tucked the left hand glove under his arm and began working the laces on the right hand glove. When that was done, he pulled that one off too. Logan tucked both gloves under his arm.
“I’m Paul Lakefield,” the man said. “I’d like to talk to you about handling a project for my company, the Lakefield Galleries.”
Logan wasn’t into art but he knew that Lakefield Galleries was tied to the Lakefield Foundation. Perry, Logan’s oldest brother, was the director of the Child First Organization in Brooklyn. That organization, along with eleven others received sizable donations from the Lakefield Foundation last year. The extra funding paid for field trips and more specialized events to be offered at Child First, all of which Logan and the rest of his siblings made a point to attend.
“Sure,” Logan replied. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to get cleaned up first. Then I’ll be able to totally dedicate my attention to your company’s needs.”
Paul Lakefield looked Logan up and down. His steely gaze moving in a totally judgmental fashion over the sweaty sleeveless t-shirt and the baggy red basketball shorts Logan wore. In those moments Logan was transported back fifteen years, to the days when he’d been a skinny thirteen year old, battling his way through the bigger kids in school, the guys who hung on the corner near his house and the teachers and cops who constantly told him he’d never amount to anything.
Logan squared his shoulders and held Paul Lakefield’s gaze. The guy could say yes or no, either way Logan was still one of the highest paid black men under thirty at The Masori Group. He had over a dozen clients whom he’d worked with successfully and had no doubt he would bring in more if Paul Lakefield decided to walk away at this moment. Although Logan was secretly praying that one of the most wealthy and influential black men in the city would actually hire him.
“Ten minutes,” the man replied. “I’m on a tight schedule this afternoon.”
“Yes, sir,” Logan said, holding back the huge sigh of relief. “If you’d like, you can go on up to my office. I’m on the fifth floor. Karen, my assistant, can get you settled until I return.”
“I’ll wait here. The clock is ticking, Mr. Williams.”
Logan nodded. “Yes. It is. I’ll be right back.”
Logan excused himself and jogged to the men’s locker room. Inside he hit the shower, came out and dressed in record time. He was in the mirror tying the navy blue and yellow striped tie he’d worn with his navy blue pinstriped suit today, reciting the words that had gotten him through college.
“You were born to be a king. Royal blood runs through your reins. Do not be deterred by the garbage on your streets or the names you might be called. You are a product of peace, integrity and righteousness.”
He finished the tie and pulled his jacket over his brood shoulders. With one hand he smoothed down the thick, but neatly trimmed beard he’d been sporting for the last year. Turning his head to the left and then the right, he checked the low cut sides and the inch and a half long-strands of hair on top of his head, recalling the time when he’d worn long dreadlocks to express his freedom. Logan reminded himself that he hadn’t given up that freedom when he’d chopped off the length to interview for this job. But, in fact, had shown his true propensity to lead after another stern, but caring, conversation with his mentor, Jack Kane.
With a shrug and one last look at himself in the mirror, Logan turned, grabbed his bag from the bench and headed out to meet the man that he was certain would take his career to the next level.
Five minutes after beating the time Paul Lakefield had given him, Logan sat comfortably behind his desk, and looked to the man seated across from him.
“Now, sir. How can I be of assistance to you?”
Paul Lakefield’s serious expression had not changed since the first second Logan had seen him, but Logan knew he was impressed. If he weren’t, he would have left by now.
“Call me Mr. Lakefield,” he began. “Times are changing, Mr. Williams. The galleries need to change with them.”
Logan had sent a quick text to his assistant when he was on his way out of the locker room. Karen was invaluable. When Logan sat at his desk, the home page of Lakefield Galleries was already on his computer screen. He glanced at it quickly and nodded.
“You have three locations now. The flagship gallery right here in Manhattan, as well as locations in Atlanta and San Francisco.”
“Yes,” Mr. Lakefield replied. “I also have three daughters. All grown-up now, following their own career paths and building families of their own.”
Logan was not familiar with that part, but did not let that break his stride.
“This is their legacy,” Mr. Lakefield continued. “And you want to ensure that it will stand the test of time and continue being fruitful for them and your grandchildren.”
Mr. Lakefield nodded his agreement. Inside, Logan glowed.
“Children are our future. I want to expand on that theme throughout the galleries.”
The wheels in Logan’s mind were already rolling. “Families take vacations to visit places like Disney World and famous beaches, why not to visit art galleries? History and culture can have the same allure as a talking mouse or sand and surf.”
“That is precisely my point.” Mr. Lakefield slapped a hand to his knee. “I want all new branding for the galleries to be in place by the first of the year. My oldest daughter is getting married in two months. She’s the last of my girls…”
His words trailed off and Logan watched the man closely. There was some emotion there. Sadness, pride, regret. The skin of his light complexioned face was covered with the sheen of success that not enough black men could attest to, and a weariness that many knew all too well.
“Family friendly, family focused, enriching our youth and preparing them for the world ahead. It’s a classic theme that can be tailored specifically to the galleries. We’ll focus on your already proven success while opening the public’s eyes to the softer side of the Lakefields, the side that appeals to not only the art community, but to the everyday families as well.” Logan spoke with budding enthusiasm.
He added a smile to show compassion and not eagerness. Even though he was practically jumping for joy on the inside at the thought of this magnificent opportunity.
Mr. Lakefield gave a slight tilt of his head. He clasped his fingers together in front of him and surveyed Logan once more.
“I like you,” he said finally. “When I thought of this new direction I specifically wanted someone young and ambitious at the helm. I did lots of research and your name kept entering the ring.” He nodded again. “Yes. I like you a lot.”
“I’m flattered, Mr. Lakefield,” Logan said. “And I can have a proposal on your desk first thing Monday morning.”
Mr. Lakefield stood. He buttoned his suit jacket and grabbed his gray wool coat from the other chair he’d set it on.
“I want you to start right now. Have your assistant handle whatever contract formalities there are. But you get to work on this immediately. Monica’s wedding is in two months. She’s hiring a planner. Find out what the plans are and work them into our New Year’s launch. This is a new era for the Lakefields and I want the world to watch it unfold.”
Logan had also stood and while Mr. Lakefield talked, moved around his desk until he was now standing beside him. He helped Mr. Lakefield on with his coat and told him without pause, “Thank you for your confidence in me and The Masori Group. I’ll get started right away.”
“Good.” Mr. Lakefield replied.
He turned to Logan and extended a hand. Logan quickly accepted.
“Don’t let me down.” His tone was serious.
Logan shook his head. “I won’t, Mr. Lakefield. I promise.”